Anasazi culture and its relationship to the environment in the Red Rock Plateau region, Southeastern Utah
Lipe, William D.
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The problem addressed by this study is specification of the principal cultural and environmental variables that enabled the Anasazi, during five phases of culture, to occupy and adapt to the environment of the Red Rock Plateau, a part of the Glen Canyon area of southeastern Utah. Although the Red Rock Plateau lies well below the altitude normally favored by the Anasazi, it had good enough soil and water in a few places to attract fairly heavy occupations at several times. The most favored locations were canyons cut into the Glen Canyon group of sandstones. These canyons have numerous springs and, at the time of Anasazi occupation, had sandy alluvial floors that were flooded after showers; they thus could support crops even though rainfall alone is inadequate for dry-farming. The canyons also had a wild flora much richer than that of the barren divides between streams, and an important game animal--big horn sheep--was apparently not uncommon. The region's first occupation, probably in or near the third century A.D., was by Basket Makers of the White Dog phase. White Dog sites cluster in the only habitable canyons that give easy access to the highlands north and east of the Red Rock Plateau. It was postulated that the White Dog people depended both on farming in the canyons and on food collecting in the adjacent highlands. Pinyon nuts, grass seeds, deer, and rabbits are important wild foods that are more abundant in the highlands than in the Red Rock Plateau. The reason's for the region's long abandonment between ca. 300 or 400 and 1100 A.D. are not entirely clear. There are some indications that during this period the Anasazi, who initially favored sheltered canyon farming locations, were turning increasingly to open highland fields, because of improved crops, houses, dry-farming techniques, and/or climate. The early Klethla phase occupation of the Red Rock Plateau (ca. 1100-1500) probably is an overflow of the peak population that was inhabiting the adjacent highlands as this time. This occupation also correlates with a long period of above-average rainfall. The many small Klethla sites were clustered in the Red Rock Plateau canyons most suited to farming and were not confined to the highland margins as had been the White Dog sites. The region's abandonment about 1150 correlates with the depopulation of most of the Glen Canyon area and probably with the onset of a severe drought. The reoccupation of the Red Rock Plateau in the early 1200's may correlate with displacement of population from adjacent regions due to cooling climate, which affected high-altitude sites, and to arroyo-cutting, which affected canyon settlements. The Red Rock Plateau was affected by neither factor. The Horsefly Hollow phase (ca. 1210-1260), formed by immigrants from both the Mesa Verde and Kayenta branch areas, was the time of the region's heaviest occupation; all the potentially habitable canyons were settled during this phase. Despite a general trend to large pueblos current in the Four Corners area at this time, the Red Rock Plateau sites remained small and dispersed even where soil and water appear to have been sufficient to support larger residential groups. Abandonment of the region at the end of this phase correlates roughly with the onset of the "great drought." The emigrants probably settled in one or more of the large pueblos build in the Navajo Mountain region about this time. During the Pueblo IV period (ca. 1300-1600), small group of Hopi travelled into or through the Red Rock Plateau. These parties may have been engaged in hunting, trade, or pilgrimages to shrines, but clearly did no farming.